A key Labour aide who worked for Tony Blair and David Blunkett had his messages intercepted while employed at the highest levels of government, according to papers filed yesterday against Rupert Murdoch's News International – one of 46 new claimants involved in a second tranche of phone-hacking lawsuits against the company. Matthew Doyle, who became Mr Blair's deputy director of communications in Downing Street and continued to work for the former prime minister until this year, joined the England and Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney, actor James Nesbitt and Sir John Major's former daughter-in-law, Emma Noble, in filing damages claims.
The latest salvo of cases also involves the first lawsuit related to allegations of illegal newsgathering against Times Newspapers, publisher of The Times and Sunday Times. It was revealed yesterday that phone hacking litigation has so far cost Mr Murdoch's News International £10m in legal fees for victims. Mr Doyle is the latest member of New Labour's innermost circle to bring a hacking claim against the News of the World and his proximity to two of the party's biggest beasts while in government will raise further questions about the Murdoch empire's efforts to snoop on the private lives of those running the country. Mr Murdoch and his son, James, will next week give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. Mr Blair's wife, Cherie, has also brought a damages claim against the NOTW in the latest round of litigation while a cast of senior Cabinet ministers and Labour lieutenants, including Mr Blunkett, Lord Prescott, Tessa Jowell and Alastair Campbell have already received apologies and substantial damages payments for the interception of their voicemails.
Mr Doyle, who worked for Mr Blair in No 10 and beyond for more than six years, told The Independent: "I can confirm that I have brought a damages claim but I have no further comment."
It is understood that the claim is likely to relate to the period prior to 2005 when Mr Doyle was working as a special adviser to Mr Blunkett while he was work and pensions secretary.
It emerged last year that the former Home Secretary was one of the recipients of a £300,000 damages settlement from NOTW for phone hacking between 2004 and 2005 at a time when Mr Blunkett was the subject of stories about his relationship with Kimberley Quinn, the then publisher of The Spectator.
Mr Doyle moved to Downing Street later in 2005 when he was appointed as a communications adviser to Mr Blair, becoming one of his key aides. Any evidence that the alleged targeting of Mr Doyle, who is also suing the NOTW's hacker Glenn Mulcaire, continued while he was working in No 10 would be acutely embarrassing for Mr Murdoch, who was courted assiduously by Mr Blair in the 1990s and built close links with the former PM. Mr Doyle served in Downing Street during the turbulent final months of Mr Blair's premiership when No 10 was rocked by constant claims of a campaign to unseat him by supporters of his successor, Gordon Brown. The aide continued to work for Mr Blair after he left government in June 2007, becoming his policy director as the former PM began to gather a significant fortune from speaking engagements and contracts to advise foreign governments, including the autocratic Kazakh regime. Mr Mulcaire was arrested in August 2006 and later imprisoned.
The revelation of the high-profile claim came as it emerged that the number of "likely" victims of phone hacking by Mr Mulcaire and the NOTW has exceded 1,000. Hugh Tomlinson QC, the barrister representing many of the second wave of claimants, told the High Court the Metropolitan Police had revised the number of individuals targeted upwards from 829 to 1,174, of whom all but 162 had been notified by detectives. The figures mean that NI, whose parent company News Corp has spent $195m dealing with the scandal, could yet face dozens more compensation claims and a further swingeing legal bill.
A decision will be made in October on whether a number of test cases will be selected from the current crop of litigants for a formal trial due early next year. The latest lawsuits include a claim against The Sunday Times by Jane Winter, a human rights activist in Northern Ireland who has complained about an article published by the paper in 2006.
Ms Winter had previously complained to the Leveson Inquiry that emails sent by her to former British Army intelligence officer Ian Hurst were hacked by the NOTW.
A spokeswoman for NI said the claim against the Sunday Times would be "vigorously defended".
From Beckhams to butlers: The new hacking claimants
* Cherie Blair, lawyer and wife of former prime minister
* Matthew Doyle, former political director to Tony Blair
* Ryan Giggs, footballer
* Wayne Rooney, England footballer
* Michelle Bayford, ex-girlfriend of the victim of 2006 so-called "elephant man" drug trial case, Ryan Wilson. Also Steve Bayford, Steve Bayford Jnr and Jill Burchnall
* Ted Beckham, father of David
* Dave Cook, former Scotland Yard murder detective, and Jacqui Hames, former Crimewatch presenter, ex-wife
* James Blunt, pop singer
* Andy Gilchrist, former leader of Fire Brigades Union
* Anne Colvin, a witness in the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial
* Colin Stagg, falsely accused of murder of Rachel Nickell
* Paul Burrell, butler to Princess Diana
* Peter Crouch, England striker, and Abigail Clancy, his wife
* Chris Eubank, former boxing champion, and Karron Stephen-Martin, ex-wife
* Nigel Farage, leader of UK Independence Party
* Kieron Dyer, footballer
* Eimear Cook, ex-wife of golfer Colin Montgomerie
* Jamie Theakston, radio presenter
* Jeff Brazier, reality TV contestant
* Alex Best, above, ex-wife of George Best
* Joyce Matheson, assistant to John Prescott
* Patricia Bernal, mother of Mexican actor/director Gael García Bernal
* Bobby Davro and wife Trudi Nankeville
* Jane Winter, human rights activist
* Lord Blencathra, former Tory whip
* Matt Dawson, former rugby player
* James Nesbitt, actor
* Emma Noble, former daughter-in-law of John Major
* Kevin Moran, sports agent
* Edward Blum, film director
* Paul Stretford, agent to Rooney
* Jermaine Jenas, footballer
* Nicola Philips, former assistant to publicist Max Clifford
* Mary Ellen-Field, former business for model Elle Macpherson
Also: Duncan Foster, Gemma Louise Abbey, Ian Richard Johnson, Jeffrey Alan Jones, Benedict Grant Noakes, Lucy Jane Taggart, Robert Ashworth, Georgina James, Barry James Patrick Culhane